Sunday, August 10, 2008
China - the winner or loser in 2008?
As we all witnessed this past Friday (08.08.08 at 8:08pm), the opening ceremony to the Olympics in Beijing, China, was a spectacle uncontested in its beauty, technology, and showmanship. Coming out of the newly built, energy efficient flower-shaped stadium, China showed to the world its new face and claimed its stake in the run to become a big player in international politics. With an economic growth rate of 7% (the highest in the world), China has proven to the world that economic development can come through an unusual political institution (in this case, a highly repressive, undemocratic one), throwing aside the theories of political economists that have been developing for the past century or so.
My question is this: can all of these theorists be THAT wrong? At what cost does China's political repression help it, and what consequences does it hold for the country? Is it worth the tradeoff?
I don't know much. But from what I've read and understood, China is on a dangerous path of destruction. I know this isn't what you're used to hearing about - every news channel, political scientist, and economist is claiming that China and India are the new world giants. But I have to concur with the papers I've read on this issue to say this: political institutions DO matter, and a repressive regime cannot go far without finally taking blame for its human rights violations and making right its dozens of wrongs. I don't know how long China will continue with its economic boom
A cause that I feel very strongly about is that of Tibet. For the past 50 odd years, Tibet has been facing what the Dalai Lama called "cultural genocide" by the Chinese. After the PCR staked its "claim" on Tibet based on ancient land holdings, Tibet has been torn by Chinese control and domination. Sure, the Chinese have worked on modernizing an otherwise backwards Tibet, but they've done this highly strategically: they've built malls and centers that are run by ethnic Chinese, created job opportunities for the educated (i.e., the Chinese), and created a modern railway line between Tibet and China which functionally only brings people from China into Tibet (the numbers are amazing - the train is virtually empty on its way to China, and EVERY car is filled coming into Tibet). As native Tibetan culture is slowly eradicated by the influx of immigrants, more and more Tibetans flee to India and Southeast Asia.
The biggest tragedy lays with the Buddhist monks, though. When the Dalai Lama had to flee under disguise to Dharamsala, India because he was considered a political enemy, thousands of monks left with him to India. Those that stayed behind are subject to torture, random imprisonment, and sometimes death. Chinese officials force monks to disavow their allegiance to the Dalai Lama and pledge it only to the Chinese state. When they refuse, they are beaten, tortured, or killed.
The Tibetan cause is a small one, but one that is very symbolic to me. How can we, as a global populace, be supporting and encouraging the growth and development of a nation so against everything that we supposedly stand for? (after the Afghanistan and Iraq, though, who knows what we stand for...) It frightens me that the Tibetan voice is so readily suppressed by the Chinese state and the the population is coming closer to eradication by a country that has no legal stake over its land. At this point, Tibetans have given up the hope of a free nation, but only ask for the freedom of cultural expression. As the Dalai Lama said in 2007, "what we demand from the Chinese authority is more autonomy for Tibetans to protect their culture."
As the world looks towards China in the next few weeks during the Olympics, I hope you will join me in looking away. Think about the voices that are unheard, the censorship of Chinese press, the oppressive regime that continues to kill thousands who speak up against the government and has put in place an institution that may not be far away from Stalinist policies. Tibet's Olympic team wasn't allow to participate in the Olympics this year, because it isn't recognized by the Chinese government as a sovereign nation.
The economic prosperity of China is one thing, but its politics of repression and autocracy is a whole different thing. So, again, the question remains if this nascent economic power will have the political strength to support its current developmental capabilities as the Chinese population becomes more educated, aware, and desirous for change.
EDIT: ok, so let me provide you with a more technical analysis of this, based on some of the comments I've gotten. I believe that the Chinese state doesn't have the institutions to allow all groups representation (a la PEIS 101). So basically, Chinese tools are largely repressive, and it's only up to a certain point that you can use them and maintain social peace.
They don't have the political institutions to deal with social unrest. As of now, they've channeled all their social tensions into nationalism (think: OLYMPICS) to hold together groups split by the experience of industrialization. The real question is, then, how long can that last.
A historical example comes to mind: the Soviet Union post 1970s. Between 1928 and 1970, the USSR faced economic hypertrophy, where it was growing at huge proportions to transition from an agrarian to an industrial society. After the 1970s, however, they didn't know where to go. Social unrest was increasing, there were diminishing marginal returns on their capital (they had picked all the easy economic fruits), and they weren't innovating because of the population stagnation. Could this happen with China as it finally outgrows itself?